Wentworth Woodhouse, standing in a park of 250 acres and with its East Front of 615 feet and its courts and buildings covering three acres or more of ground, was ranked as perhaps the very largest of the country palaces created by our 18th Century Whig Magnates. It was the home of Charles 1st’s ill- fated administrator, Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford. There were Wentworths at Wentworth in the 13th Century. It remained in the hands of the Fitzwilliam family until 1989. The house and around 90 acres of land were then bought by Mr Wensley Haydon-Baillie, a businessman, who was here for 10 years. In 1999, it was bought by Mr Clifford Newbold and his family, who spent many years in the process of restoring the house to its former glory. The house has recently been purchased by the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust who will continue to look after and restore the house for the future.
The 17th Century House
There is nothing to show what the original Woodhouse may have been. The house gave way to another, here is nothing to show by which of the early Wentworth’s it was created. The double square court, with the Porters Lodge in the outer wall, was a plan of the houses built in the reign of Henry VIII and the early part of Elizabeth’s, and the house was of the classical manner introduced into England by Inigo Jones after his return from Italy in 1615. All that remains of this house can be seen from the Chapel Court. The gateway to the south is attributed to Inigo Jones and traces of his work can be seen on the elevation that faces the gateway. This house, still called Wentworth Woodhouse, was added to by the 1st Marquess of Rockingham about 1725, who changed the name to Wentworth House, but we find the old name in use again about the time of the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam.
The central block of the West Front (1725-1734) is set against what remains of the 17th Century house that stretches beyond it to the south. Over the windows of the south end of the wing may be seen the Wentworth Crest and letters TW in cipher – these initials may stand for either the first or second of the Watson owners.
In 1734 we find that not only was the entire west section complete but building work had already commenced on the East Front.
The great East Elevation, with a length of over 600 feet, was based on Wanstead House in Essex (Colen Campbell) and was designed by Henry Flitcroft, who had then become Lord Malton’s chief architect. Ralph Tunnicliffe must have acted as resident architect under Flitcroft as a print of the East Front bears his name, along with another print bearing the name of Flitcroft – from these prints it is evident that Flitcroft’s plan was the one adhered to.
Alterations to the East Front
John Carr of York, who was called in by the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam when he succeeded his uncle, the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham in 1782, drew the plan for the alteration to the two wings by the addition of a third floor. He adhered to Flitcroft’s design for the roof and balustrade, but added the two pediments to balance the central structure and thereby vastly improved the look of the whole East Front. From the letters of Bishop Pococke, who stayed at Wentworth in 1750, we find that the interior of the new East Front was not completed.